This historical mystery (386 pages) was published in January of 2020 by Lume Books. The book takes you to 1911 Coney Island. Melissa read Dreamland and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Step right up to the gates of the Dreamland amusement park in Coney Island. Take a ride on the Grand Canal in Venice, go 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, meet the little people of Lilliput, and oh! help solve a murder.
The heroine of this historical mystery is 20-year-old Peggy Batternburg. Sure, she’s the heiress to a robber baron family and the granddaughter of one of the wealthiest men in America. But all she wants is to work at her beloved Moonrise Bookstore in Manhattan.
But her terribly rich, and generally terrible, family has other plans.
Peggy’s sister Lydia has been engaged to her wealthy beau for far too long. That relationship needs to be locked down. The family’s master plan is to decamp to the posh Oriental Hotel on Manhattan Beach for the summer with all hands on deck, including Peggy. The two families will sun and swim and dine together. They’ll form familial bonds, the fiancé will swoon, and a wedding date will be set. Lydia’s future, and the legacy of the Batternburg family, will be secured.
What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, plenty. Starting with a serial killer that’s terrorizing Manhattan Beach. On Peggy’s arrival, she practically stumbles on the first victim, a young girl found strangled under a pier.
Although Peggy doesn’t set out to be an amateur sleuth, she’s soon caught up in the crime — and has quite the summer.
In no particular order, she falls spectacularly in love, defies her family, tangles with the police, and mingles with Coney Island’s underworld. When she’s too hot in her bathing costume, she cuts it up to expose her legs. She scandalizes her mother by drinking Coca-Cola from the bottle ‚ and routinely sneaks out unchaperoned during the day and at night. Quel scandale!
Author Nancy Bilyeau was a magazine editor for Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly before becoming a historical novelist. She keeps the pace moving and does a bang-up job weaving period details into the story without dumping research onto the page. Notable events of the day like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the heat wave of 1911, and futuristic art all play a part in the story — and some of the characters are based on real people, but we won’t spoil the fun by name-dropping them here.
Spend a seedy, exciting summer with an endearing heroine (and a few characters you’ll love to hate) while solving a genuine mystery and watching plucky Peggy come into her own.
The phantom city vanished an hour after midnight. The one million lights of Dreamland darkened as they always did, with a clang as loud as a cannon shot, followed by a long, wheezing gush. The rides, the attractions, the sideshows, the restaurants, the dance hall, the entire fifteen-acre fairground stretching from the Canals of Venice to Lilliput — all of it had been shut down for the night. Once they’d thrown the switch on the light panels, it didn’t take long for the heat created by the electric bulbs to dissipate, replaced by the cool, salt-flavored ocean breeze. But the smell of the fairground hung on. Nothing could drive away the scent of stale popcorn, roasted peanuts, taffy and cotton candy, fried crab, boiled corn and beer, mingling with the odor of greasy machinery and rank human sweat. That was the fragrance of Coney Island, and no one ever forgot it. — Nancy Bilyeau
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